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BJP has been losing in strategist Amit Shah’s Gujarat hometown for 10 yrs. So a new strategy now

Amit Shah wasn't able to deliver a victory for the BJP in either the 2012 or the 2017 polls in the Mansa constituency, which went to the Congress both times.

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Mansa (Gandhinagar): If there is one thing most political observers can agree on, it’s that Union home minister Amit Shah is a fine election strategist. As the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) has expanded its footprint, state by state, election after election, a large share of the credit has gone not just to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity but also to Shah’s generalship.

But the strategies of the BJP’s so-called “election machine” seem to have repeatedly failed in his own hometown of Mansa, located in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar district, where he spent 16 years of his early life and where extended family members still reside.

Since 2012, the BJP has been losing the Mansa assembly seat, which is part of the Mahesana parliamentary constituency, to the Congress. What makes the party’s two assembly election losses here even more remarkable is that Mansa was traditionally a BJP stronghold.

Now, with Shah working behind the scenes to ensure a seventh consecutive win for the BJP in Gujarat, the party is hoping that a new candidate and a fresh approach might finally break the Mansa jinx when it goes to vote on 5 December.

Shah, too, has been more visible in his hometown this year. While he was hardly the prodigal son, and has been a frequent visitor to Mansa, he has cut many a ribbon here this election year. When ThePrint visited the town Monday, townspeople seemed to extol his contributions at every turn, especially projects that were inaugurated this year.

Also read: After 2017 embarrassment, Gujarat BJP banks on a Bhagwat confidant to win Modi’s home ground

Regular Navratri visits, ‘done a lot’  

A narrow lane passing through Old Shak Market on Mansa’s Bus Station Road leads to the reconstructed Bahuchar Mataji Mandir, Amit Shah’s family’s deity. Bang opposite the temple on the narrow road is Shah’s ancestral home. 

The house, with a huge, old, intricately designed wooden door, is under renovation. Neighbours said that no one is living there currently.

Amit Shah’s ancestral house in Mansa | Moushumi Das Gupta | ThePrint

“He (Amit Shah) comes here every year during Navratri to offer prayers at the Bahuchar Mata Temple. He got the old temple reconstructed,” said Harish P. Jani, 46, who lives two houses away from Shah’s ancestral home.

A data operator in a private firm, Jani’s family has lived in the locality for three generations now. But he has not been able to meet Shah during the BJP leader’s visits to the temple. “There is a security protocol. It’s not possible,” said Jani, who reconstructed his house under the PM Awas Yojana.

Less than a kilometre from Shah’s ancestral home is the Mahatma Gandhi Pustakalay, a library that has been a landmark here for decades.

Shah was purportedly a regular visitor during his schooldays, but the building had become decrepit over the years. That is, until it was refurbished and unveiled by Shah in July.

In his speech at the event, he reinforced his Mansa roots. “This is my village. My ancestors came here in the year 1361. I have studied in the library… today after inaugurating the new building of the same library, I feel happy,” he said.

The renovated Mahatma Gandhi Library in Mansa | Soniya Agrawal | ThePrint

“Amit Shah sir got the old library and a clocktower next to it renovated. This library has proved to be a blessing in disguise for the students living in and around Mansa village,” said resident Raol Kirpal Singh, 25.

Singh, who has completed his BCom and is preparing for Gujarat government service exams, said the revamped library has hundreds of books, online links to over two dozen libraries around the world, a computer library, Wi-Fi, and a host of other facilities.

“Girls also come here and prepare for competitive exams. There is CCTV all around to ensure safety,” Singh said.

During his July visit to Mansa, Shah also inaugurated the Sardar Patel Sanskrutik Bhawan, a cultural centre on Makakhad Road, a kilometre away from the library, as well as a mid-day meal kitchen run by the NGO Akshaya Patra.

During his speech, Shah promised the people of Mansa that the civil hospital here would soon be equipped with “high-tech facilities” and that the town would see many other modern amenities by 2024.

“He has done a lot of development work for Mansa village since he became a minister in Modi ji’s government,” said Babubhai Patel, who runs a pharmacy in Old Shak Market.

Two losses, now a ‘fresh face’

Local BJP leaders ThePrint spoke to said they were still somewhat baffled by the party’s defeats in Mansa, since it has traditionally been a BJP bastion. “The BJP won consecutively from the seat from 1995 till 2007,” a local BJP leader said.

The party’s fortunes here turned in 2012, when local BJP heavyweight D.D. Patel lost by 8,028 votes to Amitbhai Harisingbhai Chaudhary of the Congress.

Ahead of the elections in 2017, Chaudhary defected to the BJP and was given the party’s ticket to contest from Mansa. However, he lost to the Congress candidate, Sureshkumar Chaturdas Patel, by a wafer-thin margin of 524 votes.

According to locals, the outcomes in both these elections were affected in part by people voting along community lines.

“The Thakor community is in sizable numbers in Mansa and they have been going with Congress since the last two elections,” said Vishal Patel, a resident of Mansa village.

Of the 2.28 lakh voters in Mansa assembly constituency, Patidars are estimated to account for around 46,000 votes, Thakors 42,000, OBCs (Other Backward Classes) 34,000 Rajputs 29,000, Chaudharys 22,000, and Scheduled Castes 17,000. The remaining belong to minority communities, the Scheduled Tribes, and other castes.

The BJP leader quoted earlier said another reason for the 2017 defeat was the fallout of the Patidar agitation for reservation in government jobs. This stir, which began in 2015, is believed to be a major reason why the BJP’s tally in Gujarat dropped to a two-decade low of 99 in the 182-member legislative assembly in 2017.

This time, too, Mansa promises to be a neck-and-neck battle between the BJP and the Congress, which have both nominated candidates tactically on community lines.

BJP’s Mansa candidate J.P. Patel, who runs a successful construction business | Moushumi Das Gupta | ThePrint

While the BJP has fielded a Patidar, J.S. Patel, who is in the construction business, the Congress has chosen ex-MLA Babuji Thakor, who is from the Thakor community and is in the transport business.

Patel is a first-time candidate, in keeping with the party’s strategy of prioritising new faces in many seats.

“The party decided that not everybody who defected from Congress will be given a ticket. The ticket was given after a thorough assessment of all the applicants,” said another Mansa BJP leader, who did not want to be named.

The BJP candidate, J.S. Patel, told ThePrint that this time around he is confident that the party will sail through easily.

“A lot of development work has happened in the constituency in recent years, thanks to Amit Shahji,” he said.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

Also read: How a once-sidelined former chief of BJP’s youth wing won back Modi’s favour, got Gujarat ticket



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